Wednesday, February 23, 2011

History lessons

Just to stop David George from getting to happy this is about the Bratii :-P Well okay it's about education.

A day out to which the family attended; Bratus Minor was almost comatose apparently due to a 6-mile night hike the day/night before - yeesh. It was interesting to see his attitude - eyes unfocussed and relating weirdness such as a fascination with the bubbles rising in the cider glass; interesting because I have the same propensity in such circumstances.

So I conversed with Major, various topics but I ended up asking him how school was going on as they're starting their prep for GCSEs. He confirmed this by mentioning they'd done some test papers. I asked him how he'd done - he's leaning towards "Science". Now why they've declared this entire topic as one I don't know. They're still split up into the three main subject, but rather than have a mix of lessons they concentrate on one then move on.

Personally I don't think this is a good approach. Although they seem to grasp that it is one heading in that each subject relates to the other; mixing the lessons gives the ability to apply, say, Physics to Chemistry and Chemistry to Biology etc. So you can learn about electrons in Physics and then determine their shell structure in Chemistry. Just doing things in blocks doesn't allow that.

Anyway he's doing well in Chemistry and Biology. "So you're going to become an organic chemist?" I joked. He laughed - yep he got the joke. Curious as to other subjects I quizzed him further and got the admission of doing History out of him.

"What are you doing?" I asked him
"Martin Luther King" he replied
I pulled a face
"Yeah" he said "Before that we were doing the World Wars"
"Oh God" I said.
"Yeah!" he stated emphatically.

"Why don't they do the Egyptians, the Romans, the Greeks, the Medieval period?" I semi-stated
"I know" he replied in frustration. "Those would be interesting"

Now don't get me wrong, these are both important subjects and need to be taught; but in depth, unless you're really into it, they're boring as hell. Hardly something to try and teach easily distracted kids. I was taught land-reform and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution again important stuff, but so many details so as to cause snoozing.

Broad sweeps people. You want to show how we got where we are today in terms of 'civilisation' Start prior to 1066 with the law systems in place and how these evolved post-Norman. Head through the Magna Carta and into the Industrial Revolution that created the Middle Class. Move onto the Wars and how this pushed women into a greater role. There's no need to endlessly rehash the politics or how this treaty or that treaty came into being - emphasise how the people and thus culture reacted to the events put in motion by those in charge rather than concentrating on the actions of just those few.

Then get onto the interesting stuff - show how the Roman system applies today particularly in the American set-up of politics. Examine the Greek methods of science and how this both helped and hindered European growth in this subject. Knock down the fallacy of the Egyptians using slave labour to build the pyramids and how having a God-King shaped their society. This is all stuff that's relevant today and we seem to be numbing our children to this by making them memorise the Treaty of Versailles or some such.

So why don't we take a broad sweep of things? I think it's down to exam pressure. If you cover such a large area one school may miss out on something that needs attention in the exam which is unfair on the students. Stick to one topic and you can guarantee the type of questions that will come up and cover them. I'm betting there are multiple history papers on different topics and the teachers just pick one so that's the one you're stuck with.

So much is made about ensuring that children leave school able to perform basic arithmetic and with basic reading and writing skills, which is important; but the main subject of inoculation should be the desire to learn. If you can present a subject such that a child returns home and looks up more information on it of their own accord you've won.

I just don't see that occurring and that's a problem.

As an aside my conversation was interrupted by Major looking to his father and shouting "Don't say it"
"I wasn't going to say anything"
"Yes you were"
"Well if I were it would be how we can never get this out of you"
"That's because you don't ask"

I'm sure they do, but the flaw in parenthood in this regard is that once you discover what your child is doing you'll either start 'helping' them or bugging them about it for ever more and that for some reason you forget just how annoying you found this when you were in that position and that you took the same defensive stance in response - keeping your mouth shut.